Yemen’s attorney general on Friday ordered prosecutors in the southern port city of Aden to launch a quick probe into reports about tons of ammonium nitrate abandoned in the city’s seaport for several years.
In a letter addressed to Aden province’s chief appeal prosecutor, Ali Ahmed Al-Awash ordered an investigation to determine the veracity of media reports that 130 containers of ammonium nitrate, the same explosive materials that devastated Beirut last week, had been abandoned in the seaport for some time.
Yemeni journalist Fatehi Ben Lazerq, the editor of the Aden Al-Ghad news site and newspaper, published a story on Friday saying that roughly 4,900 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in 130 containers had been gathering dust at the port for the last three years.
The story prompted Yemen Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, a government body that runs Aden seaport, to strongly deny storing ammonium nitrate at the site, saying the reporter was referring to old seized shipments of 140 containers of the organic compound urea, which, like ammonium nitrate, is used as an agricultural fertilizer.
The corporation claimed the material was not “explosive or radioactive”. Urea nitrate, however, has been used in making bombs across the world, including those detonated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
Ben Lazerq later fleshed out the story by publishing a letter from Brig. Abdul Salam Al-Ameri, the chief of Aden Free Zone police, from April 12, 2012 and addressed to the Saudi-led coalition leadership, complaining that the confiscated containers were due to expire and might “cause great harm” to the seaport infrastructures and workers.
“The ball is in their court now,” Ben Lazerq told Arab News, referring to the government officials, saying that he published the story to alert the public about the hazardous materials.
On Friday, Yemeni lawmakers joined voices that demanded an immediate investigation into allegations of stranded containers of ammonium nitrate. Ali Hussein Ashal, a member of the Parliament of Yemen, sent a letter to the government requesting clarifications about the presence of 130 40-foot containers of fertilizer abandoned in Aden seaport, and the reasons for importing the materials.
Mohammed Alawi Amzrabeh, the chairman of Yemen Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation, told Arab News they kept the containers of “safe” agricultural fertilizers in the port after the Saudi-led coalition rejected the shipment’s entry into the country. Despite the corporation’s assurance that the materials in question do not pose a risk, several government officials told Arab News that the Saudi-led coalition and the internationally recognized government had classified urea fertilizer as an explosive material that could be used by the Iran-backed Houthis for military purposes, banning Yemeni seaports from importing it without prior permission.
In February, Arab News reported that the Yemeni coast guard seized a ship carrying 20 tons of urea fertilizer of the country’s west coast. State media outlets have also reported multiple confiscations of urea shipments on land in Yemen, destined for the Houthi-controlled territories in the north of the country.